Review: Sustainable data from digital research conference, Melbourne

A conference was held at the University of Melbourne in December 2011 with the theme ‘sustainable data from digital research’ organised by Dr Nick Thieberger and colleagues at the School of Languages and Linguistics with assistance from the Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative (VeRSI) and the new Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH). The Keynote for the conference was Dr Stephen Ramsay, from the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the United States, author of the recently published book ‘Reading machines: towards algorithmic criticism’. The title of Dr Ramsay’s talk was ‘Found: Data, Textuality, and the Digital Humanities’ in which he discussed ‘lists’; lists of numbers, lists of words, lists of coordinates, lists of properties.  Ramsay explained that:

These lists are often transformed into other forms — visualisations, maps, information systems, software tools — but the list remains the fundamental data structure of computing, from which most other structures are derived.

Ramsay offered some meditations on the nature of lists, and suggested ways that they lend themselves to narrative and explanation.

Ramsay was particularly impressed by the volume of conference papers that was produced by the new Espresso Book Machine, a print on demand machine at the University Library that can produce a book in a matter of minutes.  The volume contains many excellent papers on subjects such as ‘fair use’ and copyright, collaborative tools for typological research, semantic annotation for 3D museum artefacts, and language archiving and documentation technologies. The conference’s core theme was focussed upon language documentation of endangered languages in the Asian-Pacific region; thus long-term preservation and reuse of these materials is of paramount importance to this research community. The .pdf version of the book and the presentations can be downloaded from and further printed copies can be ordered from the University of Melbourne Bookshop.

Also at the conference, the new Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) held a reception in the beautiful Arts Hall in Old Arts at the University of Melbourne.  I as Secretary of the Association welcomed guests and explained that membership to the Association would be through LLC: the Journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. Membership also came with numerous benefits such as a substantial discount to the Associations upcoming conference ‘Digital Humanities Australasia’ in Canberra in March 2012 and discounted entry to the international Digital Humanities Conference in Hamburg, Germany, July 2012.

Together the conference revealed how a specialised disciplinary group of scholars largely working on vial and urgent questions around the documentation and preservation of the recordings of endangered languages are engaging with a broader Digital Humanities community in Australia so that many of the computational methods used can be shared and applied in other disciplines. The Digital Humanities is a highly interdisciplinary endeavour party with the goal to provide a ‘methodological commons’ for the humanities to discover and use new computing methods. The more that we provide these interdisciplinary spaces, the greater the ‘technical capital’ of the humanities will grow thus opening up a more active engagement with the development of appropriate computing tools and methods to address specific humanities research questions.

aaDH joins ADHO

We are pleased to announce that the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) has been admitted to the international umbrella group, the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations (ADHO).  Membership to aaDH will now occur through subscription to the LLC Journal, which administers association memberships for all ADHO constituent organisations.

Professor Ray Siemens (Victoria; Canada), Chair of the ADHO Steering Committee passed on the following message:

 On behalf of all members of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations, the ADHO Steering Committee wishes to extend a very warm welcome to the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities as the newest ADHO Constituent Organisation.  The discussion was strongly supportive and positive, and the decision unanimous.

The Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) is an organisation of individual members established to serve a growing digital research community in Australia, New Zealand and more widely in the region of Australasia and the Pacific. The aim of aaDH is to support and extend links between digital humanities researchers and practitioners, improve professional development opportunities and facilitate international collaborations and leverage for local projects and initiatives. aaDH was initiated in Australia and conceived of as an association primarily for members in Australia and New Zealand. While the membership base will largely be drawn from this region of the world, it also welcomes those with an interest in digital humanities from further afield. Strong international engagement has been a guiding principle and rationale in setting up the association.

 The mission of aaDH is to promote and contribute to the development and advancement of digital research methods in the humanities, arts and social sciences. Its vision is to raise the profile and representation of digital humanities in Australasia by fostering exemplary research and supporting a growing community of practice. aaDH understands digital humanities in the broad and inclusive sense in which it is described by ADHO and endorses ADHO’s statements about the scope and diversity of work in the digital humanities field worldwide as set out at .

Stephen Ramsay: Melbourne December 12

Title of lecture: Found: Data, Textuality, and the Digital Humanities: Please register for this Information Futures event here:

Time: Monday December 12 from 9.30 – 10.30 in the Wood Theatre, Arts West, University of Melbourne (Map: Building 148, Next to Old Arts and Baillieu Library)

(A video of a keynote talk given by Stephen Ramsay at “The Face of Text” — the third Canadian Symposium on Text Analysis (CaSTA) held at McMaster University in 2004.

In this presentation in Melbourne, Stephen Ramsay will discuss some of the latest research in the Digital Humanities. This includes applying methods to analyse the vast array of digital collections that have been developed over past decades. These methods provide additional layers of scholarly interpretation and thus uncover new insights.

“Computational processes generate lists: lists of numbers, lists of words, lists of coordinates, lists of properties.  We transform these lists into more exalted forms — visualisations, maps, information systems, software tools — but the list remains the fundamental data structure of computing, from which most other structures are derived.  Whenever we treat the world as data, we are nearly always creating lists.

But what sort of *texts* are these, and can we consider them the same way that we consider other texts within the humanities?  In this paper, I offer some meditations on the nature of lists, and suggest that it is the paucity of information they provide — and the ways in which that paucity licenses narrative and explanation — that allows us to imagine computational representations as texts that can play a fruitful role in the wider context of humanistic inquiry


Rethinking the Digital Encyclopaedia Genre: An Australasian Perspective

 Defining the Genre

The term ‘genre’ is used here to loosely describe the innovative work that has occurred in the construction and use of dictionaries and encyclopaedias in the Australasian region.  As applications of computing within the humanities have expanded, so too have the boundaries of how we understand these applications.  Many digital humanities projects have grown out of their disciplinary moorings to become truly interdisciplinary in nature, engaging with new audiences beyond the traditional communities of humanities scholarship.  For instance, online encyclopaedias and dictionaries have emerged as an expression of a particular type of genre that has been embraced and progressed within numerous humanities projects in the Australasian region.

The projects are diverse in nature, shaped by their own set of historical circumstances and subject matter, and yet they reveal a similar set of conventions.  They are interdisciplinary, and they have dedicated audiences – two factors that help to sustain them and foster their engagement with and contribution to evolving technical methods in the digital humanities.  The projects communicate knowledge in a similar ‘encyclopaedic’ manner, thus attracting a popular as well as a specialist audience, which is vital for their sustainability.  Further, the underlying technical structure reveals a commitment to technical sustainability and respect for historical research standards, and for producing enduring records.  As a mode of digital scholarship, this genre is proving to be a robust model for the digital humanities, with an audience impact that broadens the reach of the field.

Australian Dictionary of Biography and Obituaries Australia

The Australian Dictionary of Biography ( is the premier reference resource for the study of the lives of Australians who were significant in Australian history.  Published in print since 1966, the ADB went online in 2006 and is now one of the most cited Australian web resources for the humanities.  This presentation reports on the current redevelopment of the ADB, which is being undertaken for longer term sustainability in an online-only publishing environment, as well as to enable new forms of historical understanding and analysis.  A new companion project, Obituaries Australia, will be launched in 2011.  Rather than providing definitive accounts of prominent lives, it collects together obituaries and related digitised material from many sources including personal archives.

Although both the ADB and Obituaries Australia have been initially built on custom databases, they will ultimately be migrated to a wiki platform, and in time the two resources will be interlinked.  The broad goals for these projects are to: (1) enhance entries through collecting richer metadata; (2) digitise, document and link to the entries a wide range of documents, making primary and secondary sources easily accessible to the public as well as for internal editorial and research purposes; (3) expose the data in suitable formats for analysis and re-use by external parties; and (4) begin to trace the complex associations between people, events and places to build a collective portrait of Australian society. (P Arthur)

Structure after the Fact: From Abstract Database to Digital Encyclopaedia

 The Dictionary of Sydney ( is built on top of a generic web database (Heurist) designed from the ground up for humanities research data.  Heurist uses an abstract data model which can accommodate any type of physical or conceptual entity (building, map, document, person, event, role, relationships, annotations etc.) without any modification of the underlying database structure or effect on existing data.  The independence between database structure and the domain modelled confers the flexibility required by open-ended humanities projects and encourages the granular recording of information (for example, birth, marriage and death as individual fact records rather than as fixed calendar attributes of individuals).  The remixing possibilities of such granular data allow decisions about delivery formats to be taken after-the-fact, allowing data to be repurposed for websites, data feeds, maps, mobile applications etc. (I Johnson)

AustLit: Mining for Meaning in Australian Literary History

Austlit ( is a unique digital humanities resource containing comprehensive biographical, bibliographical and full text data related to Australian literary, print and narrative cultures.  Under development for the past decade and constructed as an element of national research infrastructure, AustLit is a destination for researchers to both seek authoritative information and contribute to the resource in the pursuit of their own knowledge-building agendas.  Researchers working in a diverse range of related fields use AustLit to generate highly structured yet considerably nuanced datasets.  AustLit research communities cover, for example, genre-based areas (drama, pulp fiction, screen writing), subject-specific areas (the representation of ‘Asia’ in literary texts), regional and locally based research (tropical Australia and state-based datasets), author and creator focused research (Indigenous writers, writers with multicultural or non-English speaking backgrounds), through to specialist cultural analysis projects (such as the mapping of banned or restricted books in the 20th century).

With such varied research projects all operating within the same virtual research environment, the result is the creation of a resource that is as wide as it is deep.  AustLit presents a record of the history of the nation’s literary development over the course of 220 years of publishing, reading and writing.  The database, containing millions of analysable data elements, allows for a range of interrogations to be made in order to investigate assumptions frequently made around the nature of publishing, reading and genre across history. (K Kilner)

Pathways Project: Using Archival Records

This project is a public knowledge space with the specific purpose of helping right wrongs inflicted to individuals in the past.  The Australian Federal Government ‘Forgotten Australians’ initiative provided a mandate for research and public action to improve access to records of people who had been placed in ‘care’ through services provided by both public and private institutions.  ‘Who Am I?’ is a University of Melbourne, Australian Research Council funded project involving extensive community engagement that has the aim of coming to grips with why it is so difficult for people who were in care to find and access records from that period of their life.

Pathways: Historical resources for people who experience out of home ‘care’ in Victoria ( is a useful example of a highly purpose-driven ‘encyclopaedia’ that has proven to have broad stakeholder uptake and approval.  Indeed, it is the first of its type in this sector in Australia and represents a major breakthrough for this community to share knowledge in a sustainable and engaging way. Of particular note is the action research process that was utilised to engage the community and tackle the issues of widely distributed and variously managed and documented archival collections.  The project has involved government as well as community service organisations, archival and information services.  The collaborative writing of collection and series level descriptions of sets of archival records has become a major means of developing a capability that has been missing from the sector. (G Mccarthy)

 (See websites)

CFP: Digital Humanities Australasia, 28-30 March 2012

Call for Papers, Panels and Posters

DIGITAL HUMANITIES AUSTRALASIA 2012: Building, Mapping, Connecting

The inaugural conference of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities
Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 28-30 March 2012

Sponsored by the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University.

REGISTRATION OPENS: Early January 2012

The Australasian Association for Digital Humanities is pleased to announce its inaugural conference, to be held at the Australian National University, Canberra, 28-30 March, 2012. The conference will feature papers, panels, posters and associated workshops. We invite proposals on all aspects of digital humanities in Australia, New Zealand and internationally, and especially encourage papers showcasing new research and developments in the field and/or responding to the conference theme of ‘Building, Mapping, Connecting’.

Proposals may focus on, but need not be limited to:

– Institutionalisation, interdisciplinarity and collaboration
– Measuring and valuing digital research
– Publication and dissemination
– Research applications and interfaces for digital collections
– Designing and curating online resources
– Digital textuality and literacy
– Curriculum and pedagogy
– Culture, creativity, arts, music, performance
– Electronic critical editions
– Digitisation, text encoding and analysis
– Communities and crowdsourcing
– Infrastructure, virtual research environments, workflows
– Information mining, modelling, GIS and visualisation
– Critical reflections on digital humanities futures


Julia Flanders (Brown University, USA)
Alan Liu (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA)
Peter Robinson (University of Saskatchewan, Canada)
Harold Short (King’s College London, UK and University of Western Sydney, Australia)
John Unsworth (University of Illinois, USA)


Abstracts of no more than 300 words, together with a biography of no more than 100 words, should be submitted to the Program Committee by 11 November, 2011. All proposals will be fully refereed. Proposals should be submitted via the online form at Please indicate whether you are proposing a poster, a short paper (10 mins), a long paper (20 mins) or a panel. Presenters will be notified of acceptance of their proposal on 30 November, 2011.


The Australian Academy of the Humanities has provided funding for travel bursaries. These will be available on a competitive basis for postgraduate students and early career researchers from Australia and New Zealand to present at the conference and participate in associated workshops. Staff from cultural institutions are also encouraged to apply. When submitting your proposal please indicate if you wish to be considered for a bursary.


1. Poster presentations

Poster presentations may include work-in-progress on any of the topics described above as well as demonstrations of computer technology, software and digital projects. A separate poster session will open the conference, during which time presenters will need to be available to explain their work, share their ideas with other delegates, and answer questions. Posters will also be on display at various times during the conference, and presenters are encouraged to provide material and handouts with more detailed information and URLs.

2. Short papers

Short papers are allocated 10 minutes (plus 5 minutes for questions) and are suitable for describing work-in-progress and reporting on shorter experiments and software and tools in early stages of development.

3. Long papers

Long papers are allocated 20 minutes (plus 10 minutes for questions) and are intended for presenting substantial unpublished research and reporting on significant new digital resources or methodologies.

4. Panels

Panels (90 minutes) are comprised of either:

(a) Three long papers on a joint theme. All abstracts should be submitted together with a statement, of no more than 300 words, outlining the session topic and its relevance to current directions in the digital humanities; or

(b) A panel of four to six speakers. The panel organiser should submit a 300-word outline of the topic session and its relevance to current directions in the digital humanities as well as an indication from all speakers of their willingness to participate.


Dr Paul Arthur, Australian National University
Dr Katherine Bode, Australian National University


Dr Paul Arthur, Australian National University
Dr Craig Bellamy, VeRSI, University of Melbourne, Australia
Dr Katherine Bode, Australian National University
Prof Hugh Craig, University of Newcastle, Australia
Prof Jane Hunter, University of Queensland, Australia
Dr Sydney Shep, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Roberto Busa dies aged 97

There are perhaps not many fields in the humanities that can trace their roots to certain individuals, collaborations, and innovative new approaches. But within the application of computing to humanities problems one name looms large. Roberto Busa, one of the pioneers of humanities computing, died in Italy on Tuesday (August 9, 2011).

Roberto Busa is considered by many to be the founder of the scholarly application of computing in the humanities and is most well-known for his collaborations with Thomas Watson, the founder IBM. This resulted in the Index Thomisticus, a complete lemmatization of the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the immensely influential 13th Century philosopher and theologian. The Index Thomisticus is a tool for doing sophisticated searches within the large corpus that eventually allowed the printed publication of the 56 Volumes of the Index in the 1970s; work that took almost 30 years to complete. An online version was released in 2005.
In 1956, Time Magazine wrote this about his collaboration with IBM.

“But in seven years IBM technicians in the U.S. and in Italy, working with Busa, devised a way to do the job. The complete works of Aquinas will be typed onto punch cards; the machines will then work through the words and produce a systematic index of every word St. Thomas used, together with the number of times it appears, where it appears, and the six words immediately preceding and following each appearance (to give the context). This will take the machines 8,125 hours; the same job would be likely to take one man a lifetime”…Read more:,9171,867529,00.html#ixzz1Ug8KDNnn

The major prize in Digital Humanities field, the Roberto Busa award, is awarded every three years; the first was awarded to Roberto Busa himself in 1998; the next was awarded to the Australian, John Burrows for his groundbreaking work on stylometrics.

The next Roberto Busa prize, the highest honour in Digital Humanities, will be awarded at the Digital Humanities Conference in the US in 2013.

Also, see the History of Humanities Computing by Susan Hockey, in ‘A Companion to Digital Humanities’, 2004